The American space agency has successfully flown a small helicopter on Mars.
Known as Ingenuity, the drone was in the air for less than a minute, but NASA represents the first powered, controlled aircraft powered by an aircraft from another world.
The confirmation came via a satellite on Tuesday that returned the helicopters’ data to Earth.
The space agency is promising there is more to come adventurous flights.
Engineers will be instructed to fly higher and more efficiently as they try to test the limits of technology.
“We can now say that humans flew a rotorcraft on another planet,” said Mimi Aung, project director of Ingenuity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
“We’ve been talking so long for our Wright Brothers moment on Mars and it’s here.”
It is a reference to Wilbur and Orville Wright who flew the first powered, controlled aircraft here on Earth in 1903.
The demonstration saw the Mars parade – called Ingenuity – rise about 3 meters, hover, swivel, and then land.
It is not easy to be airborne on the Red Planet. The atmosphere is very thin, here only 1% of the density on Earth. It rarely bites the upper blades of rotorcraft to get the lift. The efficiency was therefore extremely light and at more than 2,500 revolutions per minute – these blades were given the ability to turn extremely fast.
The Ingenuity was carried to Mars in the belly of a rover by NASA’s perseverance, which landed on the Red Planet in February.
Perseverance was then carried out in an “airspace” about 20 meters from its landing on the Jezero Crater on Mars, lowering Ingenuity on the ground and taking a selfie of the two of them.
A successful first voyage means four more flights will be attempted in the coming days, each taking the helicopter further forward.
Hopefully, this initial demonstration can eventually transform how we see some distant world.
In the future, drones could be used for rovers, even after the astronauts finally reach Mars.
NASA has already approved a helicopter mission to Saturn’s big moon Titan. Dragonfly, known as the mission, should reach Titan in the mid-2030s.